The European Union is lending a hand to Santorini so that the southernmost and arguably most popular Cycladic island may retain its unique, traditional character well into the 21st century.
A total of GDR12 billion in EU structural funding is being ploughed into infrastructure works at the popular resort, which attracts some 100,000 tourists each year. Little whitewashed homes, their rounded lines a typical Cycladic architectural feature, cling to the steep cliff-face, or caldera (cauldron), which plunges into the lead-coloured, serene Aegean waters 225 metres below.
The famous caldera stretches from the capital Fira along the villages of Firostefani and quieter Imerovigli to the artists paradise of Oia in the north, the best position from which to watch the sun drop into the sea. Opposite lies the island of Nea Kameni, where an active volcano smoulders quietly - the last major eruption occurred in 1950. Locals, mindful of their wondrous heritage, are undertaking a labour of love in renovating those homes, some yet to be repaired after the devastating 1956 earthquake that struck the island.
The Greek government, along with local authorities, keeps a close eye on works and development on the island, ensuring that the classic architectural guidelines safeguarded by law are strictly observed. To enhance such efforts, the ministries of Greek culture and environment along with the local municipality and islanders - who number around 10,000 - devised a plan to improve infrastructure, particularly in view of the enormous service demands placed on the island in the tourist season. The new, larger municipality was created through the amalgamation of several island communities in 1998 under the Capodistrias plan.
As Santorini's natural water supply has diminished significantly, what is left is now undrinkable and can only be used for washing. The island has been forced to import bottled water. For this reason a water desalinisation plant is to be constructed - using EU funds - at the village of Karterados to boost the water table. Such a computer-controlled facility already exists at Oia, provided by shipping and media magnate Aristidis Alafouzos, who hails from there.
The island's rubbish dump, situated on the cliff-face at an old quarry site, will hopefully be phased out of use with the planned introduction of an incineration plant. Rubbish will be sorted in the first instance, with organic waste separated from aluminium and paper, then compressed and incinerated. Municipal authorities say a GDR2-billion sewage plant is to established at the southern town of Emborio, where water is to be thoroughly recycled before being flushed out to sea.
In a bid to cut out the less aesthetically-pleasing aspects of technology which interrupt the stunning views, power and telephone lines are going underground - starting with Fira and Oia - while television aerials are being replaced by satellites.
Furthermore, visitors will find walking through Fira an even more enjoyable experience once the capitals central road is pedestrianised.
The island's cherished donkeys will remain as they play an important role: besides ferrying cruise ship passengers from the port of Skala up to Fira, the estimated 2,000 in use on the island are valuable to locals as they carry building materials to areas inaccessible to vehicles.
According to one proposal to improve accessibility, the port at Athinios - which is now considered too small - may be moved to the east coast near Kamari and Monolithos, where the Santorini airport also is situated.
Technological advancement will also assist in the reservation of centuries-old tradition, which can be viewed at the impressive Akrotiri Santorini archaeological site. Akrotiri findings, dating back 3,500 years, will soon have a decent roof over their heads with the instalment of a prototype system financed by the EU. Akrotiri site director Christos Doumas, professor of prehistoric archaeology at Athens University, and Athens architect Nikos Findikakis, an expert in natural resource management, co-designed the environmentally sound roofing system.
Its skylighting and insulation will work to cool the site, especially in the height of summer when the temperature at the site can reach 50 degrees Celsius under the existing corrugated asbestos roof. Doumas says the project will help restore the landscape, require little maintenance and last 300 years. Operated by the Greek Archaeological Society, the site is funded by the culture ministry.